ERA 2006: Association calls on EC to act on ‘excellent’ rules principles

 - September 13, 2006, 4:30 AM

While the European Commission has defined “excellent” governance principles for better regulation, it has not followed its own rules, ERA director general Mike Ambrose told AIN ahead of this month’s ERA general assembly in Barcelona. Furthermore, the EC and the airlines have reached different conclusions in their interpretations of the rules–just one more hurdle operators across the Continent face in an environment rife with challenges ranging from emissions trading to the single European sky.

The ERA proposes that regulators and “stakeholders” agree to alternative means of compliance (AMCs) with the EC’s “better regulation” rules, as they did with Joint Aviation Authorities regulations. The airline group harbors concerns about many areas, including slot allocation and operations.

Ambrose said regional airports have been slow to recognize the possible effect of proposed revisions to European Union slot-allocation rules. Changes could permit slot trading that might endanger regional services if operators perceive slots as more valuable than service.

According to ERA air-transport policy director Andrew Clarke, proposed rules “will reduce flights between regional and major airports” and regions and local communities could suffer if airlines cannot afford to buy slots for sale under proposed regulations. He said the problem stems mainly from crowded airports: rule changes “will not create capacity, but will cause changes to markets served from congested airports.”

The EC, which proposes a free market to increase “slot mobility,” expects to publish final proposals around the end of the year. It believes present rules frustrate the European single market because they protect incumbent airlines at congested airports.

The association’s “second highest concern” involves proposed EC regulation of emissions trading, according to Ambrose, who said reduced discovery of new conventional oil reserves means “a very serious fuel problem is not very far away.” While regulators could apply economic instruments such as taxes and surcharges along with emissions trading, Ambrose said that problems arise “in the details.” For example, he asks if trading systems would apply only to air transport, or if “credits” could be earned by reducing environmental damage elsewhere.

ERA infrastructure and environment general manager Simon McNamara expects an EC draft discussion paper in about three months, although the entire process could mean no emissions trading policy will go into effect before about 2010.

A political activity of which the ERA does approve remains the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) project, for which a two-year feasibility study began seven months ago. Through several “milestone deliverables,” initial work involving various interested industry parties aims to establish a master plan by March 2008. Such “deliverables” include market requirements, definition of a “future [air-traffic management] target concept,” selection of a “deployment scenario” and scheduled work for the first five years of a subsequent “implementation phase.” The first so-called deliverable–definition of the sesar market–is scheduled for presentation on September 12 in Geneva.

Ambrose said that industry has “never had such an opportunity to
take part in development” of aviation infrastructure. McNamara said that because industry drove the sesar project, “we’ve not had to try to correct a [political] proposal.”

The ERA director-general proclaimed sesar “a great idea,” but sees funding as a problem, because, he said, public or private investment, not passengers, should pay for the work. Airlines should pay only as they use the infrastructure, he added, because “lots of operators [might not] be around to use pre-paid services.” McNamara likens such a system to road-users’ payment of toll charges to cover the cost of surface infrastructure.

Ambrose warned that conflict is already arising: “SESAR versus the future Eurocontrol Agency,” which may imply a lack of belief in sesar’s prospect of success. Ambrose said that the EC and the agency will not accept certain sesar industry executive committee policies or statements.

Meanwhile, the airline lobby’s opposition to industry sponsorship of airport infrastructure development contrasts with its approval of SESAR, even though, not surprisingly, fellow aviation special-interest group Airports Council International (Europe) supports advance funding. “Forward funding is not justified for Europe’s major airports,” said Ambrose, who added that the main hubs would continue to see
their usual traffic. “There is no risk of low-cost carriers leaving, for example.”

The ERA also remains worried about the “tortuous” passage through the European Parliament of EU legislation to replace current JAA “JAR Ops 1” requirements. EU Ops will strengthen passenger and aircraft safety by ensuring that member states legally impose current JAA requirements (whose standards were neither mandatory nor legally binding), according to ERA.

But ERA technical services general manager Nick Mower noted “serious widespread and continuing concern” over EU Ops 1 progress. “Nothing appears to be happening,” he said. Accordingly, the ERA has proposed that “utmost effort” go into ensuring the “entire aviation industry” is aware of the need to accelerate progress through implementation to its ultimate repeal.

Its general support for EU Ops 1 notwithstanding, the group continues to show genuine concern about the safety implications of current proceedings, as EASA’s assumption of oversight from the JAA threatens to overtake the legislation’s long gestation. “The realignment is expensive both for states and airlines,” according to the ERA.

Operators will need “at least” to alter manuals, change procedures, and arrange flight- and cabin-crew training. “There is every likelihood that this process will need to be undertaken twice in a very short time,” warned Mower. “Not only will there be no safety benefit from such a ‘double shuffle,’ but it’s likely that safety would be jeopardized.”

Despite ERA’s recognition that EU Ops will ensure minimum safety standards, the airline lobby claims that proposed cabin-crew licensing will do no such thing “and may even decrease current levels of safety” because licenses will not ensure crew training in individual airline safety procedures.

While training schools would ensure certain generic standards, crews “would have to be retrained in an operator’s procedures to ensure full safety compliance, even though airline will not have to train cabin crew who are already ‘licensed,’” according to the ERA.

Finally, the association remains concerned about EASA accountability, a worry aggravated by the EC’s imposition of higher charges to balance its books this year.  The EASA and the EC plan to establish completely new fees and charges for next year, and Ambrose’s group wants evidence that any revised charges and fees will lead to financial stability after this year.